This is the unedited version of an opinion piece that was published in Newsday last week.
I am a private college advisor, and have a slightly different take on the recent college admissions scandal.
I’m disgusted by the lack of fairness described by the indictment, and on behalf of the hard working kids who didn’t get in because their spots were “taken” by rich kids of scummy clients of William “Rick” Singer.
But the only shocking thing is that people are shocked! “Pay to play” exists in all walks of life, such as government contracts to operate restaurants, jobs for donors to political campaigns and, more recently college admissions.
Colleges are businesses and have their own institutional agendas, such as recruiting kids from underprivileged economic backgrounds, underrepresented minorities, legacies and recruited athletes.
Oh, and “Development” cases, i.e. ultra wealthy families who the administration hopes will donate to the college’s endowment. Businesses need money to cover their expenses and grow. Not a newsflash that admissions isn’t a pure meritocracy.
However, I readily admit that I was surprised by some aspects of this scandal, but perhaps not how you might think.
I actually met “Rick” Singer in 2010. A mutual friend introduced and warned me that he believed only approximately 80% of the words that came out of Singer’s mouth.
So my old partner and I met Singer in a nondescript office in Miami, where he proceeded to tell me about his business, how Tony Robbins sold him the name for his business (“The Edge”) and how he flew all over to meet clients such as Steve Jobs.
“There’s the 20%!” I thought.
But that wasn’t what I had the hardest time with. Singer told me that an Arab Sheik contacted him, because his son was waitlisted at Georgetown University. He heard that Singer had a “side door” way of getting him in.
The Sheik, by way of Singer, offered Georgetown $6M to pry him loose. (I shudder to think what the “back door” was!)
Here’s the part I had the toughest time swallowing: according to Singer, Georgetown said no!
My first thoughts were, “Good for them!” because I suspected that this was the exception, not the rule.
My next thought was, “Why would a Sheik care where his kid went to college?”
Singer’s answer was one word: status. Being in the right social circles.
I found myself wondering the same thing when this story broke. I understand, on some level, that private equity guys, CEOs and celebrities crave status. We all do, on some level.
So I see the argument for Stanford, Yale and other similar schools. But UCLA? The University of San Diego (acceptance rate: 50%)?
No offense, but has the obsession with college status filtered down to “Second Tier” and lower schools?
The bigger question is, what does all of this mean for “normal” families with college-bound teens? Here’s what I’m telling clients and parents at my workshops and webinars
Yes, the “system” is rigged.
Yes, I wish things were different.
But they’re not. It’s not helpful to live in the “Land of Shoulds,” to quote my wife, Pearl.
Instead, I prefer to deal with how things are on Planet Earth. Reality.
Some stuff is out of your control, some is entirely within your control.
You can’t change who your parents are, their bank accounts or where they went to college or what TV show they appeared on.
But you CAN affect your academic performance, the courses you take, your standardized test scores and extracurricular activities.
You can also choose the colleges you apply to. If you don’t get into an elite college, the world will continue to spin on its axis.
There is zero proven correlation between where someone goes to college and how much they earn. (Google “Dale and Krueger”).
Our kids will be successful during their four years of college, and, more importantly, the 40-plus post-college years, based on their efforts, not where they went to college: their work ethic, grit and resilience.
Qualities that money and wire fraud cannot buy.
Andy Lockwood is a best-selling author and owner of Lockwood College Prep, in Glenwood Landing, New York.